The Gold Bat by P.G. Wodehouse
IV. The League's Warning.
The team to play in any match was always put upon the notice-board at the foot of the stairs in the senior block a day before the date of the fixture. Both first and second fifteens had matches on the Thursday of this week. The second were playing a team brought down by an old Wrykinian. The first had a scratch game.
When Barry, accompanied by M'Todd, who shared his study at Seymour's and rarely left him for two minutes on end, passed by the notice-board at the quarter to eleven interval, it was to the second fifteen list that he turned his attention. Now that Bryce had left, he thought he might have a chance of getting into the second. His only real rival, he considered, was Crawford, of the School House, who was the other wing three-quarter of the third fifteen. The first name he saw on the list was Crawford's. It seemed to be written twice as large as any of the others, and his own was nowhere to be seen. The fact that he had half expected the calamity made things no better. He had set his heart on playing for the second this term.
Then suddenly he noticed a remarkable phenomenon. The other wing three-quarter was Rand-Brown. If Rand-Brown was playing for the second, who was playing for the first?
He looked at the list.
"Come on," he said hastily to M'Todd. He wanted to get away somewhere where his agitated condition would not be noticed. He felt quite faint at the shock of seeing his name on the list of the first fifteen. There it was, however, as large as life. "M. Barry." Separated from the rest by a thin red line, but still there. In his most optimistic moments he had never dreamed of this. M'Todd was reading slowly through the list of the second. He did everything slowly, except eating.
"Come on," said Barry again.
M'Todd had, after much deliberation, arrived at a profound truth. He turned to Barry, and imparted his discovery to him in the weighty manner of one who realises the importance of his words.
"Look here," he said, "your name's not down here."
"I know. Come on."
"But that means you're not playing for the second."
"Of course it does. Well, if you aren't coming, I'm off."
"But, look here----"
Barry disappeared through the door. After a moment's pause, M'Todd followed him. He came up with him on the senior gravel.
"What's up?" he inquired.
"Nothing," said Barry.
"Are you sick about not playing for the second?"
"You are, really. Come and have a bun."
In the philosophy of M'Todd it was indeed a deep-rooted sorrow that could not be cured by the internal application of a new, hot bun. It had never failed in his own case.
"Bun!" Barry was quite shocked at the suggestion. "I can't afford to get myself out of condition with beastly buns."
"But if you aren't playing----"
"You ass. I'm playing for the first. Now, do you see?"
M'Todd gaped. His mind never worked very rapidly. "What about Rand-Brown, then?" he said.
"Rand-Brown's been chucked out. Can't you understand? You are an idiot. Rand-Brown's playing for the second, and I'm playing for the first."
He stopped. He had been going to point out that Barry's tender years--he was only sixteen--and smallness would make it impossible for him to play with success for the first fifteen. He refrained owing to a conviction that the remark would not be wholly judicious. Barry was touchy on the subject of his size, and M'Todd had suffered before now for commenting on it in a disparaging spirit.
"I tell you what we'll do after school," said Barry, "we'll have some running and passing. It'll do you a lot of good, and I want to practise taking passes at full speed. You can trot along at your ordinary pace, and I'll sprint up from behind."
M'Todd saw no objection to that. Trotting along at his ordinary pace--five miles an hour--would just suit him.
"Then after that," continued Barry, with a look of enthusiasm, "I want to practise passing back to my centre. Paget used to do it awfully well last term, and I know Trevor expects his wing to. So I'll buck along, and you race up to take my pass. See?"
This was not in M'Todd's line at all. He proposed a slight alteration in the scheme.
"Hadn't you better get somebody else--?" he began.
"Don't be a slack beast," said Barry. "You want exercise awfully badly."
And, as M'Todd always did exactly as Barry wished, he gave in, and spent from four-thirty to five that afternoon in the prescribed manner. A suggestion on his part at five sharp that it wouldn't be a bad idea to go and have some tea was not favourably received by the enthusiastic three-quarter, who proposed to devote what time remained before lock-up to practising drop-kicking. It was a painful alternative that faced M'Todd. His allegiance to Barry demanded that he should consent to the scheme. On the other hand, his allegiance to afternoon tea--equally strong--called him back to the house, where there was cake, and also muffins. In the end the question was solved by the appearance of Drummond, of Seymour's, garbed in football things, and also anxious to practise drop-kicking. So M'Todd was dismissed to his tea with opprobrious epithets, and Barry and Drummond settled down to a little serious and scientific work.
Making allowances for the inevitable attack of nerves that attends a first appearance in higher football circles than one is accustomed to, Barry did well against the scratch team--certainly far better than Rand-Brown had done. His smallness was, of course, against him, and, on the only occasion on which he really got away, Paget overtook him and brought him down. But then Paget was exceptionally fast. In the two most important branches of the game, the taking of passes and tackling, Barry did well. As far as pluck went he had enough for two, and when the whistle blew for no-side he had not let Paget through once, and Trevor felt that his inclusion in the team had been justified. There was another scratch game on the Saturday. Barry played in it, and did much better. Paget had gone away by an early train, and the man he had to mark now was one of the masters, who had been good in his time, but was getting a trifle old for football. Barry scored twice, and on one occasion, by passing back to Trevor after the manner of Paget, enabled the captain to run in. And Trevor, like the captain in _Billy Taylor_, "werry much approved of what he'd done." Barry began to be regarded in the school as a regular member of the fifteen. The first of the fixture-card matches, versus the Town, was due on the following Saturday, and it was generally expected that he would play. M'Todd's devotion increased every day. He even went to the length of taking long runs with him. And if there was one thing in the world that M'Todd loathed, it was a long run.
On the Thursday before the match against the Town, Clowes came chuckling to Trevor's study after preparation, and asked him if he had heard the latest.
"Have you ever heard of the League?" he said.
"I don't think so," he replied.
"How long have you been at the school?"
"Let's see. It'll be five years at the end of the summer term."
"Ah, then you wouldn't remember. I've been here a couple of terms longer than you, and the row about the League was in my first term."
"What was the row?"
"Oh, only some chaps formed a sort of secret society in the place. Kind of Vehmgericht, you know. If they got their knife into any one, he usually got beans, and could never find out where they came from. At first, as a matter of fact, the thing was quite a philanthropical concern. There used to be a good deal of bullying in the place then--at least, in some of the houses--and, as the prefects couldn't or wouldn't stop it, some fellows started this League."
"Did it work?"
"Work! By Jove, I should think it did. Chaps who previously couldn't get through the day without making some wretched kid's life not worth living used to go about as nervous as cats, looking over their shoulders every other second. There was one man in particular, a chap called Leigh. He was hauled out of bed one night, blindfolded, and ducked in a cold bath. He was in the School House."
"Why did the League bust up?"
"Well, partly because the fellows left, but chiefly because they didn't stick to the philanthropist idea. If anybody did anything they didn't like, they used to go for him. At last they put their foot into it badly. A chap called Robinson--in this house by the way--offended them in some way, and one morning he was found tied up in the bath, up to his neck in cold water. Apparently he'd been there about an hour. He got pneumonia, and almost died, and then the authorities began to get going. Robinson thought he had recognised the voice of one of the chaps--I forget his name. The chap was had up by the Old Man, and gave the show away entirely. About a dozen fellows were sacked, clean off the reel. Since then the thing has been dropped."
"But what about it? What were you going to say when you came in?"
"Why, it's been revived!"
"It's a fact. Do you know Mill, a prefect, in Seymour's?"
"Only by sight."
"I met him just now. He's in a raving condition. His study's been wrecked. You never saw such a sight. Everything upside down or smashed. He has been showing me the ruins."
"I believe Mill is awfully barred in Seymour's," said Trevor. "Anybody might have ragged his study."
"That's just what I thought. He's just the sort of man the League used to go for."
"That doesn't prove that it's been revived, all the same," objected Trevor.
"No, friend; but this does. Mill found it tied to a chair."
It was a small card. It looked like an ordinary visiting card. On it, in neat print, were the words, "_With the compliments of the League_".
"That's exactly the same sort of card as they used to use," said Clowes. "I've seen some of them. What do you think of that?"
"I think whoever has started the thing is a pretty average-sized idiot. He's bound to get caught some time or other, and then out he goes. The Old Man wouldn't think twice about sacking a chap of that sort."
"A chap of that sort," said Clowes, "will take jolly good care he isn't caught. But it's rather sport, isn't it?"
And he went off to his study.
Next day there was further evidence that the League was an actual going concern. When Trevor came down to breakfast, he found a letter by his plate. It was printed, as the card had been. It was signed "The President of the League." And the purport of it was that the League did not wish Barry to continue to play for the first fifteen.